July 24, 2002
KAARINA, Finland - The U.S. Under-21 Women's National Team fell to Denmark 1-0 in its second match of the Nordic Cup and now needs a big win over Greece in its last group match on Friday, combined with a Finland win over Denmark, in order to make the championship game.
The USA had multiple dangerous chances in the first 30 minutes, missing several quality goal-scoring opportunities, including shots from midfielder Aly Wagner and forward Christie Welsh, while Danish goalkeeper Heidi Johansen came up with a handful of great saves. Wagner did put the ball in the net in the 42nd minute on a header off a cross from Marcia Wallis, but the goal was called back and mysteriously, Wagner was given a yellow card for pushing a defender.
The second half was combative--Denmark was called for 23 fouls in the match--and the U.S. did not find a rhythm until the end of the game, but were down 1-0 by that time as the Danes tallied with 11 minutes left. Denmark scored the only goal of the game on a bit of a fluke, taking advantage of a poor U.S. clearance at the top of the penalty area. Pernille Schmidt latched onto the ball and hit a 22-yard shot that was deflected by a U.S. defender and looped into the upper left corner over diving U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo.
"The result is obviously disappointing," said U.S. head coach Jerry Smith. "We put ourselves in a tough position to advance to the final needing a little help from Finland on Friday. Our inability to finish our chances really hurt us today. We simply have to finish our chances better. At the same time, we have to give a lot of credit to Denmark. They were well coached today, very disciplined and had a lot of fighting spirit."
The loss put a dent in the U21's quest for their fourth consecutive Nordic Cup tournament championship. Without a sanctioned FIFA tournament for U21 women, the Nordic Cup serves as the top competition in the world for this age group. The USA has won four out of the last five Nordic Cups since 1997, including three in a row. It was the first loss at the Nordic Cup for the U.S. women since the 1998 championship game.
Veronica Zepeda came off the bench in the 53rd minute and added a spark to the U.S. attack. She settled the ball in the attacking third and had a dynamic dribbling run in the dying minutes, working herself free to shoot, only to drive the ball over the crossbar. Cat Reddick also had a golden chance to tie the game in the waning seconds as she was on the end of a great U.S. buildup, but knocked her shot wide left from 12 yards out.
Solo was forced to make just three saves, but had a spectacular match with her feet, coming far off her line to clear numerous Danish through balls. She also calmly dealt with many balls passed back to her under pressure and boomed her patented drop kicks deep into the Danish half.
The USA will face Greece on Friday needing to win by at least four goals and by a larger margin than by which Finland beats Denmark, to earn the Americans a place in the championship on Sunday, July 28.
"Realistically, if we can regroup mentally and have more composure in front of the net, we can get the result we need against Greece," said Wagner. "We just have to hope that Finland can do like South Korea did for our U.S. men in the World Cup and get a result against Denmark to help us through."